The Do’s and Don’ts of Switching Formula

It can be difficult to find the perfect formula for your baby’s unique needs. For this reason, you may find yourself starting with one type of formula, then needing to switch. You should always do so under the guidance of your child’s pediatrician, but below we’ll discuss a few helpful do’s and don’ts for formula switching.

Main Types of Formula

First, it’s important to understand the basics. There are cow’s milk-based formulas, options with hydrolyzed with protein already broken down for easy digestion like Nutramigen, soy-based formulas, organic formulas, iron-fortified options, formulas specialized for preemies, and more.

Aside from what we mentioned above, also keep in mind that formula comes in three forms. You can purchase ready-to-feed liquid formula, which requires no additional preparation, concentrated liquid which requires mixing with water, or the most popular option, powder. 

Why Switch Formula?

All babies are different, even siblings, so the formula you’ve always used or the brand your best friend recommends may not be right for your child. There are many signs that your little one isn’t tolerating his current formula, and your baby may exhibit all or some of these symptoms:

  • Constipation (check out our favorite brands of formula for constipated babies here!)
  • Fussiness after feedings
  • Frequent spit-ups
  • Excess Gas (check out the best formula for gassy babies here!)
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Eczema
  • Hives or other rashes
  • Not meeting growth milestones/Failure to thrive

All of the above symptoms occur on a sliding scale, and they could also be due to other reasons. So, it’s tricky to determine if their formula is the culprit. If your pediatrician can’t identify another cause, formula is a good bet. Sometimes, you simply won’t know until you try.

Don’t Forget to Trouble-Shoot When Switching Formula

Before you decide to switch your baby’s formula, it’s important to make sure you aren’t missing something obvious. For instance, are you following the current formula’s preparation guidelines properly? Check the packaging to make sure you aren’t missing any important steps. You should also check the expiration date to ensure you aren’t using an expired product.

Next, think about whether you’re truly following your baby’s feeding cues. While many little ones get on a feeding schedule relatively quickly, their needs can change frequently due to growth spurts. That means you’ll need to be continually attentive to both hunger cues and fullness cues. Follow your instincts before determining whether your baby truly needs to switch formula.

How to Make the Switch Properly

First, it’s important to note that some babies have extreme reactions to a certain type of formula. This could be due to a milk allergy, an intolerance, or a medical condition. In these cases, it’s usually medically necessary to stop the formula in question cold turkey, as it would be unsafe to let your baby continue to ingest it at all. If this is the case for your baby, follow your pediatrician’s guidance on switching formula.

If your baby isn’t having an extreme reaction, yet still doesn’t seem to be tolerating her formula well, you’ll likely want to follow the slow transition process. This allows your baby’s delicate digestive system to gradually get used to the new formula. A slow transition, assuming a feeding of four ounces, looks like this:

  • Day 1:

3 oz of current formula mixed with 1 oz of the new formula

  • Day 3:

2 oz of current formula mixed with 2 oz of the new formula

  • Day 5:

1 oz of current formula mixed with 3 oz of the new formula

  • Day 7:

Full 4 oz of the new formula

As you work through this gradual timeline, feel free to alter it to be a bit slower or a bit faster, depending on how your baby is responding. Some kiddos are ready for a full bottle of new formula after five days, while others may need a full two weeks to adjust to a full serving. Follow your baby’s lead, along with guidance from your pediatrician.

Additional Tips

Sometimes, timing is everything. If your baby has a cold, fever or other illness, it’s best not to start a formula change until they’re feeling better.

It’s also not recommended to make more than one change in baby’s feeding at once. For instance, if you’re also thinking of changing bottle types or increasing nipple flow, make these changes before or after the formula change. Too much at once will be difficult for your little one to handle, making the transition trickier for everyone involved.

On Switching from Breast Milk to Formula

Many women who start out breastfeeding find they need to switch to formula. It may be due to decreased milk production, a return to work, or simply personal choice. Some women move their babies from full breastfeeding to being fully formula fed, while others supplement with formula or use a blended feeding style. All of these options are healthy choices that will allow your baby to thrive.

It is also best to do breastmilk to formula transitions gradually when possible. You’ll want to begin by getting baby used to a bottle, so if you haven’t done so previously, you can pump to express breastmilk and then try feeding it to your baby in a bottle for just one feeding per day. Gradually increase the frequency of bottle feeds until you reach your desired feeding schedule.

After you’ve gotten your child comfortable with a bottle, you can begin transitioning to formula. Use the same technique described above, gradually mixing more formula with your breastmilk until eventually baby is taking full servings of formula. The taste is quite different, and some babies respond better to it than others. Be patient and go at the pace that seems right for your baby.

The Bottom Line About Switching Formula

Every baby is different, and any changes to their feedings can cause angst – both for babies and for their parents. However, when done properly and with the guidance of medical professionals, transitions between formula types or between breastmilk and infant formula can be successful and lead to happy, healthy, and thriving little ones.

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